« AnteriorContinuar »
wise intellectual excitement which they communicate; by the suggestive and creative inspiration which lives ever in their thought. In any age Bacon's would have been a commanding mind. He was born at a time when new forces were called into action. He was the Herculean child of his age, and he undertook, with giant strength, but with goodly purpose, to organize these forces. If his success had been immeasurably less than it has been, still the grandeur of his aim and the beneficence of his philosophic spirit would have entitled him to all his fame. His was no vain, selfish, or arrogant philosophy. Philosophy, in his view, was not for the exaltation of the individual, but for the comfort and improvement of all men. The secrets of Nature as the secrets of Heaven not given to the proud, but to the humble and the dutiful; and therefore those who would learn of Nature must not anticipate, but interrogate her. Yet, while they study nature, they must not forget God or man; for "the true end of knowledge," as Bacon holds, "is the glory of the Creator, and the relief of man's estate."
It is often said that no man of original and decided genius, with sufficient opportunity and means of culture, ever missed or mistook his proper destination. We can hardly help thinking that Bacon did. His proper destination was the contemplative, not the active life, and whatever beguiled or forced him so much away from the contemplative life, and so much into the active life, was injury to himself and loss to mankind. He must have felt often in his own mind that he was not in his true vocation in waiting on a cold and capricious Queen; in wasting days and years in the slow and late-rewarded work of counsellor or courtier; in mocking his own nobleness by doing humiliating but unwilling homage to envious and selfish kindred. He must have often felt, in moments of reflection, that it was not for such a work Heaven blessed him with so plenteous an endowment of gifts and graces. There are tones in his meditative writings that seem to imply that he did thus feel. With his vastness of comprehension he could not have believed that he was of the order of men who rise by patronage, but have no dignity to lose in such promotion; he could hardly have considered that to be Solicitor-General, Attorney
VOL. LXXII. — 5TH S. VOL. X. NO. II.
General, or even Lord Chancellor of England, if he could even have the office without suing or solicitation, was to be compared with being the teacher of the world's teachers. We look with sadness on Bacon in his worldly career, and this sadness is equally deep whether he was driven into it by early poverty or by mistaken ambition. But we think more sadly still on the loss which the literature of power and of philosophy has suffered. Bacon, though of huge measure in any sphere, was peculiarly fitted for literature and philosophy; and, though always making his greatness evident, he was not so well fitted for politics and business. With such matters the constitutional temper of Bacon was as much out of keeping as that of Hamlet appears to be, in the drama, with the bloody vengeance which the ghost of his father commissions him to execute. Letters and thought should have been the occupation of Lord Bacon; and then he would have left us more than fragments, for magnificent fragments are all that he has left. It may be that no human powers of execution could have completed such plans as his; not all of them, indeed, but some of them would have been so far embodied as to give us specimens of his perfected workmanship. He might have written the history of a grand period, — and then we should have had some of the noblest lessons of wisdom that history has ever taught. He might have written the history of philosophy, then we should have had such a union of criticism, of poetry, and of eloquence, as only his genius could have given us. He would have brought into finished shape some of those gigantic schemes of thought which he was obliged to leave in outline and indications, and we should have possessed in their wholeness some rounded examples of Bacon's power. But we must not be presumptuous or covetous; we should rather be humbly grateful and content. We have enough to quicken and to fill our minds; when we have mastered and exhausted all that he has bestowed, we may then complain that we have no more. Bacon's writings were honestly intended for men's improvement; and he that modestly "reads, marks, learns, and inwardly digests them," cannot fail to gather from them the ripest and the richest fruits of mind.
1. The Works of the REV. JOHN WESLEY, A. M., sometime Fellow of Lincoln College, Oxford. Third American Complete and Standard Edition, from the latest London Edition, with the last Corrections of the Author. Comprehending also numerous Translations, Notes, and an Original Preface, etc., by JOHN EMORY. In Seven Volumes. New York: Carlton and Phillips. 1853. 8vo. 2. Checks to Antinomianism. By REV. JOHN FLETCHER. Last Check. A Polemical Essay on the Twin Doctrines of Christian Imperfection and a Death Purgatory. New York: Carlton and Porter.
3. Theological Institutes: or a View of the Evidences, Doctrines, Morals, and Institutions of Christianity. By RICHard Watson. A new Edition, with a copious Index, and an Analysis, by J. M'CLINTOCK. New York: Lane and Scott. 1850. 2 vols. 8vo. 4. The Scripture Doctrine of Christian Perfection Stated and Defended: with a Critical and Historical Examination of the Controversy, Ancient and Modern. By GEORGE PECK, D. D. New York Lane and Scott. 1850. :
THE religious movement of the last century, in which the Wesleys were the prominent agents, is very well known to have been spiritual rather than doctrinal. It had reference to life and character, not to dogma nor symbol. Men were exhorted to "seek first the kingdom of God," - and no tests were used to determine the subjects of this kingdom, save those of evangelical repentance and a life corresponding to the requirements of the Gospel. Yet this very freedom in respect of doctrinal views became the occasion of important theological developments. There was first a very general repudiation of some of the chief elements of the Calvinistic system, and then the adoption of certain practical opinions germane to the newly awakened religious life. Then there arose what was termed the "Wesleyan Theology," containing much that was common to it with Calvinism, and having many elements crudely stated, and imperfectly adjusted to each other, yet presenting certain features which are of no small importance and which have attracted considerable attention.
Among these opinions peculiarly Wesleyan, two are especially noticeable. One is that of the "Witness of the Spirit," -the spiritual consciousness of present salvation from the guilt and power of sin. The professed subjects of this experience were certain, not only that they had exercised repentance toward God and faith in the Redeemer, but also that there had been awakened in them a new spiritual affection. There were no vague conjectures, no hopes, more or less dubious, concerning their religious position; but they had a settled confidence, an "assurance of faith," that they were the children of God. As we have intimated, it was rather by inference from experience than by deduction from a priori dogmatizing that this doctrine of the direct testimony of the Paraclete became a prime element in Methodistic theology. Long before it had found a place in the denominational standards, -in fact, before there were any such standards, it was the popular notion assumed by the lay preachers and entertained in the societies. The happy subjects of this "conscious salvation," whether gathered in meetings, or sitting in solitude, or engaged in the avocations of life, could often be heard singing, with great warmth and unction, these glowing words: —
"What we have felt and seen
"Exults our rising soul,
Disburdened of her load,
"The Father hears Him pray,
The presence of his Son;
His Spirit answers to the blood,
The doctrine of the witness of the Spirit was nothing strange in dogmatic theology; but so far as any practical bearing in the experience of individuals was concerned, it was no better than obsolete in almost all established and non-conformist
churches. The great mass of religious people, and even religious teachers, had "not so much as heard whether there be any Holy Ghost," as an actual living power in the Church, directly dealing with the hearts of men. With the Methodists it was more than anything else the distinguishing feature of the new religious life and preaching.
Closely connected with this, and perhaps growing out of it, so that the two are frequently confounded, was that of a practicable perfection in piety, a completeness of Christian character attainable in the present life. Like the other, this notion was not a new one. It appears, in its essential features, in some of the Patristic writers, and, though the powerful influence of the Augustinian doctrine of sin nearly excluded it from the Scholastic authors, there are occasional glimpses of it among the Mystics and certain pietistic classes of the Middle Ages, as well as the later Quietists. It appears, too, not unfrequently, in the writings of the Reformers. But it was not the creed of any sect, nor the doctrine of any prominent party, till the time of Wesley. It was embraced with singular unanimity by the preachers associated with him, was discussed and favorably received in almost every Annual Conference for several years, and from the first has been regarded as one of the distinguishing tenets of the denomination in nearly all its branches. It is not made an article of faith or a condition of membership anywhere; though in the largest ecclesiastical bodies of the denomination an assent to the doctrine in its general form is required of all candidates for the ministry.
A multitude of books have been written on this subject. We have selected the works whose titles are given above, as presenting the doctrine in its unmodified Wesleyan form. In Wesley's writings there is a great variety of treatises on a great variety of topics. That of Christian Perfection is discussed in two sermons (Nos. 35 and 68), and the whole subject is compactly and comprehensively set forth in his "Plain Account of Christian Perfection," occupying about fifty pages in the sixth volume. Fletcher early espoused the views of Wesley, and devoted himself to their advocacy and defence with more success, in many respects, than the leader himself. To his vigor and clearness as a theological writer there was